It has been very interesting to observe the behaviour and levels of compliance of the public during the Covid-19 lockdown. As residents in the UK, one of the most intriguing factors has been how the power of fear has proven to be such an effective tool in controlling the behaviour of the population. This episode must be a very useful case-study for governments who want to consider how best to control the behaviour of their populations around the world!
In the space of just a few days (and even hours), the prospect of becoming infected with a virus has led not just to immediate compliance with government advice (which is good), but in many cases taking steps which are far beyond the advice. It is now common to see people wearing face-masks, disposable gloves and going to incredible lengths to avoiding intersecting the path of someone else – a level of hysteria seems to be at work causing people to go lengths that are beyond what we have been told is effective. And this is a response to a virus which is fairly tame when compared to other threats to life and certainly not as potent as historical viruses which have ripped through populations.
Although this is undoubtedly also a reassuring display of obedience to the authorities which is a vital part of any functioning society, we also sense that this demonstrates how the power of fear that can grip society. John MacArthur alludes to this is this hour-long interview about how his church has approached the pandemic.
This factor is very revealing and there are a number of observations that could be relevant for the perspective of faith and Bible prophecy.
We have all traditionally been conditioned to associate government tyranny with weapons and force, but maybe fear is the most potent weapon for controlling people, certainly in the comfortable western world. The fear of potential illness, death or even fairly mild suffering seems to trump everything and will cause us to willingly relinquish all kinds of freedoms and liberties in an instant.
This implies that a profound fear is firmly anchored within our culture which dictates our behaviour and may be linked to the spiritual condition of the western world. Could this be symptomatic of a society that has nothing to hope for beyond this life? A society which has removed God from the public square and has been left without an eternal perspective to life or anticipation of what the afterlife may bring? Has our culture has become so obsessively worried about the quality and comfort of our earthly lives that there is a response of sheer terror at any perceived threat to this – a terror that will lead to the stockpiling of toilet paper?!
Please don’t misunderstand, we are not downplaying the threat of Covid-19 and the destruction it has caused in many lives. However, it will probably not prove to be much more deadly than the yearly seasonal flu and there are many other serious daily threats to life that have not bought life to a complete standstill and resulted in similar extreme behaviour. For example, cancer is linked to a number of behaviours that do not appear to influence the lifestyle choices of many (such as smoking, poor diet, the excessive consumption of alcohol, a lack of exercise etc). Road traffic accidents cause untold misery and tragedy for tens of thousands every year in the UK, but this does not result in a lockdown of the use of cars.
Furthermore, we suspect that in the months and years to come, the presence of fear will result in relatively little resistance when action is proposed by the government to prevent a recurrence of this pandemic – such as new legislation, testing and vaccination programmes, the gathering and use of personal data and other steps that would attract more opposition in normal circumstances. Just like 9/11 changed the aviation industry forever, we suspect that our lives will never be quite the same as a result of this pandemic.
Looking further ahead, we suspect that the presence of fear will be a prominent feature of the end-time world system described in Revelation 13:
It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. (Revelation 13:16-17 NIV)
In this apocalyptic prophecy, what could cause the world’s populations to willingly yield to the instruction to receive this mark? There is no question that there are other factors involved such as the dazzling miracles and diplomacy that the antichrist demonstrates – however, given what we have seen with this pandemic, the presence of fear can cause people to do virtually anything – maybe this will be the tool of choice? We should stress that we believe those who take the mark will do so consciously pledging allegiance to the antichrist – no-one will be able to take the mark without knowing what they are ‘signing up’ to. This is why the texts describe Christians refusing to the mark.
If nothing else, we must remind ourselves that fear is not an attribute that needs to afflict the Christian as we live our lives in anticipation of the coming King and many amazing promises. This can replace fear with a joyful heavenly perspective to life:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV)
Before the lockdown, Danny preached a sermon ‘A Christian Antidote to Turmoil’ where he explored the following passage which is very appropriate for this time:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9 NIV)
Feel free to listen to this sermon below: